In the most famous dancing partnerships, whom do audiences really come to see? That’s the painful question at the heart of “Our Last Tango,” German Kral’s passionate, creative documentary about María Nieves and Juan Carlos Copes, who popularized the Argentine tango around the world.
Nieves and Copes were frequent guests on American TV in the early 1960s and in the ‘80s helped bring the Tony-nominated musical “Tango Argentino” to Broadway. But all along, their offstage romantic partnership was fractured by Copes’ many infidelities. Finally he decided to press on — successfully — without her.
Kral’s film offers some basic information about the tango and explains how Copes reinvented the dance to adapt to an evolving popular culture. But “Our Last Tango” is more Nieves’ story, describing how she went from being a destitute youngster to becoming one talented man’s muse … before being left behind.
Kral has some archival footage, but mostly he re-creates the key incidents from his subjects’ lives via stunning dance routines. In between the talking-head interviews with Nieves and Copes, he has the ex-partners talk to the dancers playing them in the movie, giving tips.
There’s something achingly poignant about watching the octogenarian Nieves and Copes direct “themselves” — while addressing what might have been. While “Our Last Tango” is a little schematic overall, from moment to moment, it’s beautifully choreographed.
Our Last Tango’
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena